Technology

Garmin Forerunner 235

Garmin Forerunner 235 GPS-watch review

The FR 235 is a great GPS + heart-rate tracker for running and cycling. There are cheaper alternatives (notably from TomTom). If your budget allows for this model, buy it ($330 here). You won’t regret it.

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Several very thorough reviews have been written that go into the Garmin 235’s features in great depth — if you want a long version I recommend the one at dcrainmaker. On this page I offer you, by contrast, a (very) short review of the Garmin Forerunner 235 fitness tracker/GPS watch based on daily real-world experience. I bought one with my own money, and use it for my own running.

Footnote: I’m a 30-something guy with a desk job who trail-runs 2x per week. If you are seriously into triathlon or swimming you may want something more fancy like a Fenix 5.

The Garmin Forerunner 235 is available in these colours

The Good:

  • Attractive round-faced design
  • Excellent GPS tracking
  • Very good built-in optical Heart Rate monitor
  • Great battery life (I get 9 days when running 2x or 3x per week)
  • Good ergonomics
    • lightweight
    • intuitive buttons
    • always-on display
    • display works great in bright sunlight
    • customizable
  • Useful as a smart watch (iOS / Android notifications)
  • Customizable watch face (classic analogue, digital, etc.)
  • You can swim with it (rated 50 m waterproof)
  • Features that help you quantify your fitness and training (VO2Max estimate, recovery advisor, activity tracker, training effect)

The not-so-good:

  • Plastic; will eventually scratch during normal use
  • No barometric altimeter (although GPS altitude works better than I expected)
  • Pairs with phone over bluetooth but doesn’t support external bluetooth sensors (uses ANT+ instead)
  • No touch screen (although some people will prefer it this way)
  • No music player
  • Very little on-board storage for apps
  • Odd distinction between custom downloadable watch faces, widgets and apps
  • More expensive than the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio

Bottom Line:

The Garmin 235 is a good-looking runner’s/cyclist’s watch that focuses on core functionality, which it does very well. It also has smartwatch features but never lets these detract from its core functionality.  Fitness trackers and smart watches are still evolving at a rapid pace – every year brings new models with better performance, new features and better designs. Unless you’re rolling in cash I’d recommend rather buy mid-range and update every few years than splurge on a titanium-and-sapphire range-topping watch like the Fenix 5.

My Garmin 235 (Marsala colour). That display is just beautiful in the sun (here in standby mode with classic watch face)

Blue Steam

As a photographer I see my camera as a tool with which to capture and create. As an engineer, I see my camera as a wonderful machine and opto-electric toy. But sometimes a situation arises that makes a camera into a scientific tool. To make visible some hidden property of reality itself.

After this poetic introduction, it might seem a little mundane to tell you that this post is about the steam the comes out of my coffee machine. And in fact you don’t even need a camera – this is something that you can see with your naked eye. We own a Delonghi Icona home espresso machine, which looks like this:
DeLonghi_IconaLike most machines of this type it has a milk frother side-arm (on the right), that can be used for making cappuccinos. It works by forcing hot steam out at high velocity. The steam’s velocity is controlled by a valve which one opens by turning the round black knob on top.

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New firmware fixes D600 HDMI output. (Also, updates for almost all of Nikon’s current other DSLRs)

Yesterday, Nikon released new firmware for almost all of its current DSLR line-up, namely for the D4, D800, D600, D3, D3s, D3x, D7000 and D3200. Most of these updates only add full compatibility to the exotic new 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens – a lens very few people will ever see or use.

D600Bits

The highlight, for me, is the fact that Nikon has now finally addressed the uncompressed HDMI bug that frustrated D600 videographers. This issue used to be a reason for DSLR videographers to get the more expensive D800, and seemed like a lame up-selling scam on Nikon’s part. No more, it seems!

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Make 3D models from your photographs with Autodesk 123D Catch

Autodesk’s 123D Catch software enables anyone to make a 3D model from a set of photographs. The model can then be manipulated or printed on a rapid prototyping machine (Image source: Autodesk)

A friend of mine recently told me about Autodesk 123D catch – new software with which one can create impressive 3D models of any object by just analyzing a set of photographs taken at different angles.

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Anti-alias or Moiré? (buy the Nikon D800 instead of the D800E)

Bottom line: the D800E misses a proper anti-aliasing filter. This probably does more harm than good, so buy the D800 instead, unless you absolutely need maximum per-pixel resolution and know how to avoid Moiré artefacts.
Disclaimer: The D800/D800E are great cameras that differ in subtle ways. Making a purchasing decision based on these differences will necessarily involve “splitting hairs”, but that is probably why you are reading this blog entry, so let’s do that.
I started writing this post before D800E reviews were available online. 
Now that it’s been tested by dpreview and DxO I have to admit that the D800E is less prone to Moiré than I expected it to be. Yet I stand by what I wrote in this post and I still advise you to get the D800 instead of the D800E unless you know exactly what you’re doing. Read on.

The D800 and the D800E

When Nikon announced their brand new D800 and D800E full frame (FX) DSLRs a few months ago, it was a breakthrough. These cameras push the limits in resolution beyond anything previously seen on 35mm and set new benchmarks in DSLR video capabilities. This is great news, because whether or not competitors come up with even better models, you (the consumer) still win. So, we know that they are excellent. All he reviews tell us so. The big question in photographers’ minds is probably whether to get the D800 or the D800E. The “E” sounds somehow more Exotic and Exclusive, and promises even sharper photos. Given this, the D800E’s 10% higher ($3300 vs $3000) price sounds justified. Sort of like a D800 “de luxe” edition, right? Not necessarily.

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Which DSLR camera brand is the best?

J.D. Power and Associates, a company best known for their car satisfaction surveys, have recently published a buyer satisfaction comparison for the major DSLR manufacturers. In the car world we know that Japanese cars tend to be the most reliable/satisfying, but in the camera world we deal almost exclusively with Japanese brands – so who is going to win?

Since bars speak louder than words, I'll skip to the results:*Note that the term "DSLR" excludes mirrorless and compact cameras. 
Olympus and Panasonic are leaders in mirrorless system cameras, 
at the expense of their DSLR product lines.
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Canon 7D firmware update 2.0.X

Update (7 Aug 2012): Canon has just released firmware 2.0.0 (click here for official site)

It is always a good idea to keep your camera’s firmware updated. In Sony’s NEX series, for example, updates resulted in major usability improvements. For the Nikon D800/D4, updates fixed bugs that made it past quality control. No matter what brand you own, you win by getting the latest firmware.

Now Canon 7D owners really have reason to rejoice since firmware update 2.0.X adds a lot of performance and usability improvements to what is already a very good camera. It is almost like upgrading to an even better and more expensive camera, only it’s free!

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DARPA’s AWARE Gigapixel camera

We’re used to hearing the word “Megapixel”, but “Gigapixel” still has some novelty. Giga, meaning 1 billion (10^9). That is a crapload of pixels. One thousand megapixels, or equivalent to the pixels of one hundred “normal” digital cameras, or 28 of the new super-high-resolution Nikon D800(E)s.

DARPA’s AWARE-2 as it looks when assembled. The lens peeks out through the hole in the front panel.

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The new Nikon D600 with 24-85mm VR kit lens

Rumours (and even leaked photographs) are all saying that Nikon will soon be introducing the D600, a more affordable FX (full frame) camera.

Leaked photograph of the new Nikon D600. Note the “FX” emblem.

Allthough not 100% confirmed, I certainly see this as a sensible and welcome newcomer to their line-up. Yesterday Nikon paved the way to the D600’s release with brand new Nikkor 24-85mm F2.5-4.5 VR lens.

On FX, this new lens will perform similarly to a 16-57mm F2.8 VR on DX (APS-C). The closest one gets to those specifications on DX, however, is with the expensive but built-like-a-tank Nikon 17-55mm F2.8, or Sigma/Tamron 17-50mm F2.8. The former lacks optical stabilization, while the latter two lack the Nikon badge, and risk more focussing and quality control issues.

The new Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR Lens

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The (D)SLR camera simulator

A good friend of mine showed me the cute webpage of the “SLR Camera Simulator”. This simulator gives you the chance to interactively play around with a virtual camera that features the major controls any serious photographer should master: focal length, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity.

If you are new to photography, this is a great way to get a feel for how a camera responds to your input. Of course you could (and should) also use a real camera to play around, but at least this little girl is more patient than any real-life human child. And the site gives handy feedback, too.

Click image (below) to redirect to The SLR Camera Simulator:

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